"In the Ghetto" (originally titled "The Vicious Circle") is a song written by Mac Davis and made famous by Elvis Presley, who had a major comeback hit with it in 1969. It was released in 1969 as a 45 rpm single with "Any Day Now" as the flip side.
It is a narrative of generational poverty: a boy is born to a mother who already has more children than she can feed in the ghetto of Chicago. The boy grows up hungry, steals and fights, purchases a gun and steals a car, attempts to run, but is shot and killed just as another child is born. The song implies that the newborn will meet the same fate, continuing the cycle of poverty and violence. The feeling of an inescapable circle is created by the structure of the song, with its simple, stark phrasing; by the repetition of the phrase "in the ghetto" as the close of every fourth line; and finally by the repetition of the first verse's "and his mama cries" just before the beginning and as the close of the last verse.
The song was Presley's first Top 10 hit in the US in four years, peaking at number 3, and his first UK Top 10 hit in three years, peaking at #2. It hit #1 on Cashbox. It was a number 1 hit in Germany, Ireland, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.
As a major international hit, Presley included it in his setlist during his return to live performances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969. It was a staple of his shows in the first two seasons, however in his third (August/September 1970), he included it only once, at the Dinner show on 13 August, for the benefit of the MGM cameras who were filming Elvis: That's the Way It Is. This version started without pause at the end of another hit from 1969 - Don't Cry Daddy.
Lisa Marie Presley duet version
The song was recorded in 2007 by Lisa Marie Presley as a duet to raise money for the Presley Foundation. The song was released on iTunes, it reached #1 on iTunes in the US.
Paul Shanklin recorded a parody called "In a Yugo" for Rush Limbaugh, in which an environmentally conscious family buys a Yugo to save gas, only to get killed by a truck after swerving to miss a duck. Later, Shanklin updated his parody for a new generation too young to remember the Yugo, replacing it with its perceived equivalent, "In a Hybrid".
El Vez recorded a version titled "En el Barrio" that mixed humor with details about Chicano struggles.
Danish Radio group "Selvsving" also recorded a parody called "Ned i NATO", which makes fun of former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's path to a leading post at NATO.
In the Comedy Central show South Park, Eric Cartman sings "In the Ghetto" on two separate occasions, once in "Chickenpox", then again when Kenny's soul is trapped in Cartman's body in "A Ladder to Heaven".